Compatible devices: iPad, Pro, Air, and Mini models from 2018 and onwards.
Dimensions: 167mm x 9mm
Charge time: 40 minutes (USB-C) or 2 hours (magnetic)
Battery life: 9 hours
The iPad, which the NovaPlus A8 Duo is designed for, is increasingly becoming the device of choice for artists and digital creatives, with Apple providing a gamut of creative-centric features as well as devices like the Apple Pencil. However, as is standard with the tech giant, these premium devices come with premium price tags.
Enter the A8 Duo, an iPad-compatible stylus targeted at general users and writers, presenting a much more budget-friendly price tag but at the expense of some of the high-spec features that artists need to render their work just as they would with physical art mediums. NovaPlus is an experienced producer of Apple Pencil alternatives, so by this point, we’re fairly confident in recommending it as a viable alternative option to the real thing.
So, what did NovaPlus keep in its efforts to make one of best Apple Pencil alternatives, and what did it cut from its more expensive muse to bring the price down?
The A8 Duo uses the same ergonomic design, shape, and size as the Apple Pencil 2, even borrowing the same flattened edge to prevent it from rolling off of surfaces. It’s even available in the exact same colour, as well as in black. NovaPlus also leveraged the iPad’s convenient magnetic charging feature with the A8 Duo, but you can also use the included USB-C charging dongle, which charges the stylus in just 40 minutes, versus the two hours needed for it to charge magnetically.
In features, the A8 Duo also sticks true to Apple’s form, offering great tilt sensitivity and palm rejection, meaning you get the best pen-like experience possible considering the low price of the device. All of this is great and makes for a fantastic general-use stylus or writing tool, or even a pen for those starting out in digital art - but for serious artists, there’s a pretty huge concession; pressure sensitivity. Without this crucial feature, graphic artists may struggle to do detailed work and emulate that real-life, pen-to-paper feeling with the A8 Duo. We’re also a little disappointed that we can’t vouch for the capacitative sensors, as finger-tap shortcuts would have been an impressive and unique leg-up for NovaPlus over its competition.
For half the price of the Apple Pen ($69 / £57 on IndieGogo), that’s a concession you might be willing to make, though. To help you decide, we put the A8 Duo to the test on a variety of note-taking apps and drawing apps to see how it lives up to the Apple Pencil - here’s what we found.
NovaPlus A8 Duo review: Design
In almost every way, the A8 Duo is the spitting image of the Apple Pencil 2, especially in its white colourway. While for some, this may speak to the lack of creativity in design prevalent across many Apple Pencil alternatives, it does mean that both the white and black versions of the A8 Duo feel right at home with the iPad’s aesthetics. You get a free nib with the stylus to replace the pre-attached tip when it wears down – plus, the A8 Duo is compatible with Apple and other third-party nibs when it’s time to buy some more.
There are only two differences between NovaPlus and Apple’s styluses. One is the clicky top, which can be used to switch between tools and navigate apps, and also features an LED ring that indicates when the stylus is on and in agile mode (blue), power-saving mode (green), or when the battery of the stylus has dropped below 30% (red).
The second difference is the USB-C charging port at the top end of the pen, which comes with a rubbery cap to prevent damage. However, and annoyingly, this cap is very easy to lose, and when the stylus is attached to the iPad with the cap in place, the pen isn’t fully flush with the magnetic strip.
NovaPlus A8 Duo review: Features
Increasingly, Apple Pencil alternatives are edging closer and closer to achieving Apple-quality features and specs while undercutting the tech giant’s lofty price tags significantly, and NovaPlus has clearly followed suit with the A8 Duo.
First, let’s look at the similarities. The A8 Duo has a wonderfully smooth user experience just like the Apple Pencil. Simply turn it on, connect it to the iPad’s magnetic strip, pair the device and it’s ready to go – and its battery can even be tracked in the iPad battery widget. As aforementioned, the A8 Duo supports magnetic charging, as well as native palm rejection and tilt sensitivity, granting a wonderfully smooth and enjoyable pen-like experience. While NovaPlus claims the A8 Duo has capacitive sensors enabling finger-tap gestures, unfortunately, we couldn’t get this to work during our testing.
So, how has NovaPlus differentiated itself in terms of features? Well, the main difference is the clicky top end of the pen, which can be used as a shortcut to switch tools when clicked once, or you can click twice to pull up your iPad’s app navigation screen.
However, not all change is good, of course – we have to acknowledge that the A8 Duo isn’t pressure-sensitive, meaning you can’t create the natural lines that are true-to-life like you can with the Apple Pencil or other drawing tablet styluses.
NovaPlus A8 Duo review: Performance
The NovaPlus A8 Duo is fantastic to use, presenting next to no performance drop when compared to the Apple Pencil. It’s slightly lighter than the original at 13.9g (the Apple Pencil 2 is 20g) but just as comfortable to hold, and it feels fairly robust and well-made, albeit a little plasticky.
During our testing, we used the A8 Duo on a variety of applications including Procreate, Notability and Apple Notes, and the stylus gave us no issues whatsoever. The palm rejection worked flawlessly, the tilt sensitivity was natural and smooth – almost identical to the Apple Pencil – and we didn’t notice any lag while we were working. The writing experience was similarly comfortable and smooth.
The A8 Duo has a fantastically long battery life. NovaPlus claims 12 hours of juice, and considering we used it near-constantly for 6 hours and it still had over 50% battery remaining, this sounds plausible to us. It takes two hours to fully charge magnetically, and with the dongle it takes just 40 minutes.
Should you buy the NovaPlus A8 Duo?
Whether or not you buy the NovaPlus A8 Duo will come down to one fundamental question – do you need pressure sensitivity? If the answer is no, you’re onto a real winner; the A8 Duo is a fantastic Apple Pencil alternative, and while it’s not perfect, it’s pretty close.
However, professional or aspiring artists will find themselves limited without the Apple Pencil’s pressure sensitivity, and especially if you own an iPad Pro, you’re basically wasting all of the powerful potential embedded into the tablet. If the Apple Pencil still feels like too high of a spending commitment, we’d instead recommend pressure-sensitive alternatives like the Logitech Crayon or the Adonit Note+.
Regardless, the A8 Duo is a really impressive device from NovaPlus, and is a fantastic choice for note-takers, doodlers and scribblers who want flexibility and quality from their stylus without breaking the bank.